‘You can’t rush community work’

Lilian Chen and Chan Zi Xiang

Lilian Chen and Chan Zi Xiang

Co-founders, Langit Collective

Langit Collective is a social enterprise that empowers smallholder farmers by buying their rice at fair prices to sell to a bigger market. Now, they offer trips where consumers can learn about the culture behind every grain, and create an additional income stream for farmers. 

“When we were building water pipes for an NGO previously, we saw the huge gap between rural and urban areas. Deep down, we wanted to do something beyond infrastructure building and economic projects — find one thing that the whole area can hype and build on as an economy driver.

We never had an answer until we came to Long Semadoh. We tried the amazing rice and wondered how come we've never heard of it in the market. Then we saw the challenges they faced in selling their rice. So we thought maybe helping them with market linkage can be an answer.

We started with 30kg of rice which we hand-carried and packed into jute bags and sold as Christmas gifts in December 2015. After that we decided to formalise it by setting up Langit Collective. An NGO was out of the question because we don't want to rely on handouts. We just went and registered as a social enterprise, that’s it. Four dreamers.

We did a four-month accelerator course from ideation to business-ready stage in MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre). It was eye-opening for the four of us who had no business background.

A lot of people give us ideas. You must push the farmers, scale up, change seeds, use this and that technology etc. But when you spend enough time with the farmers working the fields, you realise they have their own kind of wisdom. Wisdom they may not teach us simply because they don’t know they have it, or how precious it is. 

For example, when they observe the interplay of different natural elements, it hits you that the human is the most powerful probe and IOT (Internet of Things). It is only when your feet are stuck in the mud, that you begin to observe, hmm this mud is a bit harder, hmm this feels fertile. You can tell because you've gone to enough paddy fields to know the difference.

You can’t rush community work because it is all about relationship building. We started off with only Uncle Liun, Auntie Annie and Aunty Rumie who were crazy enough to believe in us. 

Once you get a local influencer convinced, your battle gets a little easier because you now have a ‘mouthpiece’ who understands enough about what you do to tell others about it. 

From three model farmers, we have expanded to over 40 farmers throughout the valley. Now when the other farmers see us, they stop us and ask, 'how is your yield?' You're finally talking farmer to farmer. And it’s such a satisfying pat on the back.”

Read more about Langit Collective

Meet Ribed of Langit Collective

Langit Collective is among the alumni of the Young Social Entrepreneur (YSE) programme by Singapore International Foundation, which provides mentorship, networking opportunities and a grant. In 2019, it landed the DBSF x SIF Social Impact Prize which is given out to YSE alumni who have shown sustained achievements after the programme.

  •  Alexandra Wong 
Photography & Videography
  •  Teoh Eng Hooi 

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